On 23 June, the people of the United Kingdom (UK) will vote on whether their country stays in , or leaves, the European Union (EU). While most polls show that the votes for ‘Leave’ and ‘Stay’ are roughly tied; I think that the ‘Leave’ camp will get the majority of the votes.
I am not saying this because I agree with the ‘Leave’ campaign. In fact, I believe that Brexit will be bad for both the United Kingdom and the European Union. I couldn’t do anything about it, since I can’t vote in the referendum.
Let us look at some of the dynamics that will affect the Brexit (‘Bristish Exit from the EU’) vote.
Old versus Young
The overwhelming majority of the UK’s older citizens are inclined to vote to leave the EU. These people perceive the EU as gradually stripping their country of its sovereignty. At the same time, they do not feel or experience the advantages of increased travel possibilities, friendships throughout Europe, EU subsidies and grants, etc that EU membership brings.
On the other hand, the young generation has grown up with the UK in the EU. They travel, have many personal links in Europe, benefit from study grants or other EU programs, etc. They know that the EU could provide them with future jobs and opportunities.
The votes of these two groups should balance out. However, the older people are much more likely to vote, and are quite motivated to do so. The youth, in contrast, are less likely to vote. This is made worse by the referendum day falling in a time of college exams and the beginning of the summer vacation.
Feeling the Effects
Whichever way the UK votes, most of the effects will not be felt for some time. At least two years, in fact. This is because the UK will have at least two years to negotiate its exit from the European Union. Things will remain generally the same in this period.
One possible immediate effect would be the weakening of the British Pound if ‘Leave’ wins. This may lead to an increase in exports; as well as to more expensive imports.
When the UK finally leaves the EU (perhaps in 2019), the government will most likely restrict immigration. Fewer EU nationals will be allowed to move in and work in the UK; while fewer UK nationals will move in and work in other EU countries. What will be felt by more people is the lower level of immigration. For them, this will mean less congestion when availing of government services, and maybe lead to more jobs for UK nationals.
The decreased chance to live and work in the EU will be felt by far less people..
On the longer term, Brexit will lead to a gradual transfer of companies to countries within the EU. Foreign companies which had built manufacturing plants or service hubs in the UK in order to serve the EU market will gradually shift operations to countries inside the EU. Big British companies will need to set up their Europe headquarters elsewhere; they may also shift some of their operations to within the EU. London’s role as a global financial center will diminish.
Scotland may decide to leave the UK because of the Brexit vote. There would be less trade, and increased cost of trade. There could be many other, mostly negative, effects.
UK citizens will anticipate the more immediate positive effects of Brexit; while discounting the possibility or the extent of the negative effects. People are more likely to choose immediate gain over (bigger) future problems.
A big problem of the ‘Stay’ camp is that it does not promise anything – only a continuation of the present. The ‘Leave’ camp, on the other hand, promises a return of their country’s independence, less strain on the job market and social services due to immigration, and even a vision of a more powerful and prosperous country.
Efforts by the ‘Stay’ camp to show that a Brexit will cause an economic disaster have been met with accusations that they do not have confidence in the strength and vitality of their country and people. They then shifted tack to saying that Britain will still prosper outside the EU, but that it will prosper more within it. The result is that many people have gotten the idea that Brexit will not have long-term negative economic consequences.
The issue of sovereignty is a favorite of the ‘Leave’ campaign. They argue that the country has surrendered a big part of its sovereignty to the EU. This is because the British parliament has had to pass a lot of laws to align with decisions made by the EU. The fact that the UK participates in making those decisions is discounted by saying that it has only one voice out of 28. They create an image of the UK fighting against 27 others and losing; where in fact it is quite often in agreement with the majority.Also, when decisions are made in the European Parliament or even the European Council, the UK has a very big voice..
The ‘Leave’ campaign’s claim that Brexit will reduce immigration is brilliant. Most people have some (mostly minor) irritation due to recent immigrants (both from the EU, and elsewhere) – be it longer queues for health services, scarcity of cheap housing, miscommunication with foreigners, etc. And since cutting immigration is one promise a Brexit vote would most likely deliver; a lot of people will be more inclined to choose ‘Leave’.
The only way the ‘Stay’ campaign can win is if it manages to convince people that Brexit will lead to big economic problems and uncertainty. If enough uncertainty is generated, people will have a natural tendency to choose the status quo. Scare tactics worked to keep Scotland in the UK; it might be the only way to keep the UK in the EU.